Movement compensations within exercise - what are they and why do they matter?

May 5, 2022

Movement compensations within exercise - what are they and why do they matter?

A compensation can be described as any unwanted movement of one body part on another through the reduction in a person’s motion competency. Compensations result through a loss of the precision of alignment of the joints and the accuracy and control of the soft tissues that create the movement of the joints. Examples include one area of stiffness preventing movement that must be compensated for by another, or an area having excessive movement that then requires a compensation from another area for lost stability.  

The importance of this is that if there are misalignments through, and made worse during, movement at the joints then the forces acting on these joints are not transmitted, controlled and tolerated optimally. Often this results in pain and injury. However any compensation within human movement is best avoided because they can lead to long term movement dysfunction, alignment deficit, and soft tissue imbalances. Long term these can lead to chronic and debilitating injuries and performance limitations as well as preventing physical improvement. Causes range from work positions, past injuries, pain and activities, hobbies and sports. But anything that exerts force on the human body can ultimately contribute to compensations.

During exercise the increase in demand, speed, load and force impact means that any movement compensations that are already present at rest can be enhanced. This can add to the detrimental effects of the compensations but just as importantly further supports the incorrect messages around movement, posture and positioning. As a direct result, the quality of the exercise execution is reduced to suboptimal levels. This biological feedback then causes a negative cycle of exercise and daily movements combining to degenerate human function.  

How to address and avoid compensations  

The first crucial step is becoming aware of how to achieve your own optimal alignment position. Then the aim becomes maintaining these as they change during active movement. This creates a an important part of a person’s overall movement system. When combined and used within exercise and conditioning training they contribute to the improvements and developments whilst preventing movement deficits that can lead to injury. This then becomes a positive cycle of physical rewards as the improved movement quality consolidates the exercise capability and vice versa.  

Once this has begun we then get the individual to include these newly acquired movement improvements alongside achieving optimal:

Stability: Control of required movement and resistance to unwanted movement.  

Mobility: Degree of functional control at the end of range motion.

Strength: The quality or state of being strong: capacity for exertion or endurance.

Balance: Ability to maintain centre of gravity within the base of support.  

Going forward the progress continues through the consistent and sustained refinement of the movement principles to prevent any return of unwanted compensations. As the challenge of exercise and activity continues the application of avoiding compensations remains to ensure that all training is completed effectively and accurately.  

So when at rest, work or during exercise your alignment matters because at its best it enables your peak performance but when not then it can detract from any and all developments and increase injury risk.

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